Companies soon to assume costs for disposal of single-use plastic products

UBA report proposes a levy of €8.95 per kilo of single-use plastic

Plastic trash picnic items spill out of a trash can in the park.Click to enlarge
The Single-Use Plastic Fund: Assume responsibility. Prevent littering.
Source: Adobe Stock

Whether coffee-to-go cups or cigarette butts, too much single-use plastic is landing on our streets and in parks. Cities and municipalities in particular incur costs of up to 434 million euros per year for collection and cleaning, says a study by the German Environment Agency (UBA). New EU regulation states that the manufacturers of single-use products will have to bear these costs. This is also provided for in the draft of the German Single-Use Plastics Fund Act (EWKFondsG), which the Federal Cabinet adopted in November 2022 and will now proceed into parliament. Based on its research project, UBA proposes introducing separate cost rates for each plastic product group: for disposable plastic cups, a levy of €1.23/kg would be appropriate; for plastic cigarette filters, manufacturers would have to pay as much as €8.95/kg into the Disposable Plastics Fund, says UBA. The money would then be paid out to cities and municipalities which have previously been paying for the clean-up costs. UBA President Dirk Messner said: "We expect the new levy on single-use plastics to finally put a stop to littering of the environment and that manufacturers and retailers will offer significantly more reusable packaging, especially for popular to-go packaging. Consumers can also help by insisting on reusable packaging when shopping and stop discarding cigarette butts and other plastic waste in the landscape.”

The research project commissioned by UBA⁠ drew up a cost model for the implementation of Article 8 (2)(3) of the EU Single-Use Plastics Directive which obligates all Member States to ensure that producers of certain plastic products cover the costs of cleaning up litter resulting from those products.

The UBA project reports that single-use plastic products such as to-go food containers, bags and plastic wrapping, beverage cups and containers, lightweight carrier bags, wet wipes, balloons and tobacco products with plastic filters generate annual costs of some €434 million for the collection, cleaning and disposal of litter in public spaces – a sum of €5.22 per person and year in Germany.

The study conducted a detailed analysis of the composition of waste in litter bins and other waste collected in public spaces. On a national average, single-use plastic products make up around 6% in weight percentage, with beverage cups, followed by tobacco products with plastic filters, carrier bags and wrappers accounting for the largest share. A fair distribution of cleaning and collection costs in line with EU requirements requires that both the number of waste items and the volume be taken into account in addition to the weight share. Otherwise, there is no reflection of the costliness of manual clean-up of carelessly discarded cigarette butts or the frequent need to empty litter bins overflowing with empty cups and boxes.

The study proposes levy rates per single-use plastic product group on this basis. They will serve the future Single-Use Plastics Commission as well as the legislator as a sound scientific basis for setting the levy rates and the points system for the payments. The amount of the levies to be paid into the Single-Use Plastics Fund by the manufacturers depends on the quantity of single-use plastic products placed on the market. The levies paid in will be used to reimburse the collection, disposal and awareness-raising costs of the public sector. Cities, municipalities, public waste management authorities or motorway maintenance authorities are to report services rendered to the single-use plastics fund on the basis of eleven service categories. These categories include the number of cleaning kilometres driven or the volume of litter bins emptied.

Cities and municipalities in particular incur costs of up to 434 million euros per year for collection and cleaning, says a study by the German Environment Agency (UBA). According to the EU regulations to be implemented, the manufacturers of single-use products will have to bear these costs. This is also provided for in the draft of the German Single-Use Plastics Fund Act (EWKFondsG), which the Federal Cabinet adopted in November 2022 and now goes into the parliamentary procedure. Based on its study, UBA proposes introducing separate cost rates for each plastic product group. A levy of €1.23/kg would make sense for disposable plastic cups, while manufacturers would have to pay as much as €8.95/kg into the Disposable Plastics Fund for plastic cigarette filters, says UBA. The money would then be paid out to cities and municipalities which have been paying for the cleaning costs to date. UBA President Dirk Messner said: "We expect that the new levy on single-use plastic will finally put a stop to the littering of the environment and that manufacturers and retailers will offer significantly more reusable packaging, especially for the popular to-go packaging. Of course, we consumers can also help: insist on reusable packaging when shopping and stop discarding cigarette butts and other plastic waste into the landscape.”

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